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Posts Tagged ‘Elfreda’

You are unlikely to meet many an Aphra these days.

Not only has it never reached the American top thousand, it has never managed to accrue five or more bearers in any year since records began.

Indeed, it is one of those historic curios which might have long ago slipped into quiet obscurity were it not for one notable bearer.

The poet, playwright and spy Aphra Behn.

Aphra was born in 1640 and died at the age of forty-eight in 1689.

Her early years are somewhat shrouded in mystery, and there is many a question mark which hovers over her life and adventures.

The biggest is over the trip she is supposed to have taken to Surinam in the early sixteen-sixties, the inspiration, it is said, for her Oroonoko, a work which is viewed by many as containing an early condemnation of slavery and the slave-trade.

In the mid 1660s, during the second Anglo-Dutch War, she spied for King Charles II in Antwerp. Charles wasn’t very good at paying her though, and by the end of the decade she was in a debtor’s prison in London.

Someone, however — someone unidentified — paid for her release, after which she turned to writing, becoming one of England’s first professional female writers.

She wrote plays, poetry and verse, often publishing under the name Astraea — said to have been her code name when spying in the Netherlands.

On her death, she was buried in Westminster Abbey — though not in Poets’ Corner.

But what of her name?

Many regard it as almost as mysterious as her life.

The first theory is that it is taken from the phrase “in the house of Aphrah, roll thyself in the dust,” which occurs in the biblical Book of Micah.

Certainly, it is probable that this is behind some examples of Aphra and Aphrah in the period, even though it arose as a mistake; it is aphrah itself which means “dust” in Hebrew, and it wasn’t actually a genuine given-name at all.

Another theory is that it is a variant of Afra, the feminine form of the Latin adjective afer meaning “black.” It occurs as a name in Roman times, and is borne by a minor saint.

However, she was not venerated in Britain in the medieval and early modern period, making it fairly unlikely that this was the source of Aphra Behn’s name, even though she may have been a Catholic.

Perhaps the biggest clue to the real origin of Aphra lies in the fact that her name was recorded in the parish register at her baptism as Eaffry.

This and other variants, such as Effrye, Effery, Efferay, Effray, Affray, and Affery are all found in the medieval period, suggesting that they actually represent a survival of an Old English name.

Likely contenders are Elfreda (ælf “elf ” + þrӯð “strength”), Etheldred (æðel “noble” + þrӯð “strength”), Ælthryth (æl “all” + þrȳð “strength”), or Æðelfrið (æðel “noble” + friþ “peace”).

Even Alfred might lie behind it, as it was also used as a girl’s name in the early medieval period, when it was often Latinized as Albreda. Some of its medieval forms, such as Avery, really aren’t a million miles away from Aphra.

Affery was still to be found in the nineteenth century; it was one of the unusual names collected by Charles Dickens. He obviously took rather a shine to it, as he went on to use it for a character in Little Dorrit.

So, if you fancy an unusual girl’s name with heritage, you could do a lot worse than the intriguing and beguiling Aphra.

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Time to return to the Runes, and the second letter of the Runic alphabet — U.

It has the following names:

It is unclear what the inspiration for the Eldar Futhark U was — it was either *ūruz ‘aurochs’ or *ûram ‘water’.

Aurochs isn’t a word heard much in general conversation these days; it is the name used for a long extinct species of wild ox. Aurochs is actually a German word, which came into English in the 18th Century.

Its Old English and Norse name — úr fell out of use at a very early date — probably around the time the animal disappeared. This may be the reason why in the Norse runic poems it seems to be derived from ūr ‘fine rain’ — a word ultimately cognate with urine.

In the poems, Ur gets a distinctly mixed reception, with reference to the animal’s pride, ferocity and stamina, and the negative effects of water in the form of rain.

Modern rune diviners focus on Ur’s wild ox past, and neglect the watery undertones. It is generally viewed as a rune that signifies physical strength, stamina and durability. It stands for raw, untamed power — a great asset, but something which someone who possess it might need to learn to control in order to get the best out it.

Its negative qualities are pretty clear: savagery and recklessness.

Ur itself makes an unlikely name choice, although there are other noble namesakes, such as the ancient Sumerian city of Ur, and the identical sounding Er, hero of Plato’s Myth of Er, in which Er, a former warrior, witnesses what happens to the Dead — how after a period in the Underworld, they take it in turns to choose their fate in their next life, according to how virtuous their former life had been.

Uram, however, has some potential. It’s not a million miles away from names like Aaron and Erin, after all, and plenty names end in -am.

But there are also plenty names out there (and not “out there”) with meanings such as “strength,” “power” and “endurance.” Many are sadly  probably still too heavily buried beneath a pile of Victorian corsets — names such as Elfreda, Ermyntrude, Etheldreda, Frideswide, Maynard and Millicent.

These are some suggestions:

  • Alcestis ♀ — name of a Greek heroine, from alkê “defensive strength.”
  • Alcis ♀ — epithet of Athene, also from alkê “defensive strength.”
  • Arnold ♂ — Old German Arenvaldarin “eagle” + vald “power.”
  • Bala ♂ — Indian name from Sanskrit bala “force,” “power” and “strength.”
  • Brian ♂ — Irish and Breton in origin, from Proto-Celtic *brig-/brigant- “high,” or *briga- “might” and “power.”
  • Bridget ♀ — Anglicized form of Brigid, which comes ultimately from the Proto-Celtic *brig-/brigant- “high,” or *briga- “might” and “power.” Well known as an important Irish Goddess — and saint.
  • Emin ♂ — Turkish name – emin “safe,” “secure,” “strong,” “firm” and “trustworthy.”
  • Firmin ♂ — from Latin firmus “strong,” “steadfast” and “enduring.”
  • Gertrude ♀ — Old German gêr “spear” + drudi “strength.”
  • Gorwst ♂ — Old Welsh name from gor- “super” + gwst “power,” “force” and “excellence.” Latinized in the Middle Ages as Gurgustius.
  • Griffith ♂ — Anglicized form of the Welsh Gruffudd, probably cryf “strong” and “powerful” + iud(d) “lord.”
  • Imelda ♀ — Spanish and Italian name, from the German Irmhildeermen “strong” and “whole” + hilta “battle.”
  • Iphigenia ♀ — Greek: is “strong” + gignomai “to be born” i.e. “strong-born.”
  • Jarek ♂ — Czech and Polish name, originally a pet-form of names beginning with jar “spring” or jary “fierce” and “strong.”
  • Metin ♂ — Turkish name – metin “strong” and “durable.”
  • Millie, Milly ♀ — Shorter, more approachable form of Millicent (among other names!) < Old German amal “work” + swinde “strong.”
  • Nero ♂ — Sabine: nero “strong” – cognate with San: nara and W: nêr (and banned in New Zealand!).
  • Ruslo ♂ — Romani < ruslo “strong.”
  • Swithun ♂ — Old English name < swīþ “strong.”
  • Valentina ♀ — Latin: valens “strong,” “vigorous” and “healthy” < valeo “to be strong.”
  • Valentine ♂ ♀ — as above.

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